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Female android communicates using sign language

07 Oct 2014

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Human-like robots are here.

A lifelike communication android developed in Japan can move its arms and hands smoothly and use Japanese sign language. The android is a prototype created by Toshiba Corporation, which will continue to develop towards achieving a service robot able to assist people in the fields of welfare and healthcare. (In a related news, RFID tech enables robots to find household objects.)

The android has the appearance of a friendly young woman, an impression accentuated by blinking eyes and a warm smile. At present, the android can only mimic simple movements, such as exchanging greetings and signing in Japanese, but Toshiba plans to integrate its wide-ranging technologies in areas including sensing, speech synthesis, speech recognition and robotic control to realise a more sophisticated social robot by 2020.

The goal is to design a companion for the elderly and people with dementia, to offer telecounseling in natural speech, communicate through sign language and allow healthcare workers or family members to keep an eye on elderly people.

Toshiba developed the android in collaboration with aLab Inc., Osaka University, Shibaura Institute of Technology and Shonan Institute of Technology. Drawing on technologies and expertise built up through the development of industrial robots, Toshiba created an algorithm to coordinate the movement of 43 actuators in the android's joints.

Shibaura Institute of Technology and Shonan Institute of Technology contributed robot driving and sensor-based motion teaching technologies, while aLab Inc. and Osaka University provided the technologies required to create a body with a human-like resemblance and emulate human expressions. As a result, the upper part of the body has a human appearance and moves gracefully. Toshiba aims to put the android into practical use as a receptionist or as an exhibition attendant within next year.

Robots are expected to find widespread use in many fields, including welfare, healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture, services and entertainment. Toshiba is promoting "New Concept Innovation" in order to create new forms of value by combining its wide-ranging technologies. The company will develop robots by bringing together the advanced technologies from across Toshiba Group.

However, there is one emerging downside to this innovation. According to Gartner, one in three jobs will be taken by robots, software or smart machines by 2025, adding that these machines will be able to make sense of data faster than humans can. This will affect jobs in fields such as financial analysis, medical diagnostics and data analytics.

Here is a related video of an interview with renowned scientist Stephen Hawking by comedian John Oliver. Although comical, the exchanges between the two provide interesting insights on artificial intelligence (AI). And at 2:18, Hawking said something about the danger posed by AI to humans, which can happen in the "not-so-distant future."




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